I don’t know about you, but pre-quarantine I had been spending less time in an actual cinema. Audience members arriving late, chatting, texting and consuming fried foods had already forced me to only go to a theatre to watch a film if it was playing in the morning. On a weekday.
My favorite film of 2018, Roma, had a world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival in August 2018 and its North American debut the next day at the Telluride Film Festival in September. The film also played at the Toronto International Film Festival, San Sebastián International Film Festival and New York Film Festival that autumn before it was released at independent theatres in Mexico in November. The Cinépolis and Cinemex theatre chains refused because Netflix began streaming Roma in December. This lovely film was watched by 13 million households between January and February 2019, with 418,000 viewers on 23 February, the day before the Academy Awards.
After Roma was nominated for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards, AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas issued separate statements saying that the movie would not be part of either chain’s annual Best Picture showcase. Theatres refused to screen films from Netflix because the streaming service’s policies.
The film industry was already forced to look for new ways to screen their products before COVID-19. Now productions are shut down, and who knows when they will start up again. Films already shot and ready to go, still no way of being released when theatres have been temporarily shuttered.
But, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are changing eligibility for Academy Awards in 2021. It’s not a creative choice; it was impossible for them not to rework the rules.
The standard for Academy Awards eligibility has been that a film must play in theatres for at least seven consecutive days in Los Angeles County in order to qualify for the awards. A press release from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, discloses that films that are available exclusively by streaming will now be eligible for the Oscars. This means that films that were released on Netflix, HBO, Showtime, or HULU, but never played in a theatre, could win Best Picture.
One caveat: only films that had a theatre release planned and then cancelled because of the virus will be eligible under this new rule. Films made for streaming platforms or video-on-demand that never had a release planned are not. Still, this means we will see a bunch of movies made in 2018 and 2019 that may be streaming directly during the plague, particularly films that may have held out until theatres reopened just so they could be submitted for Academy Awards consideration.
Also, in 2021, two sound categories: Best Sound Design and Best Sound Mixing, will be combined into Best Sound. For Original Score, the score must now comprise a at least 60% original music in order to be eligible.
The rules regarding releases will only apply to 2021’s Academy Awards. I don’t know for certain, but I feel that the impact of the pandemic may change forever the way we view films.